Amiga on a Chip

by James Lawrence
AmiTech-Dayton Gazette, April 2006

There has been something very interesting happening in the Amiga world. The seemingly impossible is happening. A young gentleman from the Netherlands by the name of Dennis van Weeren has created the original Amiga chipset on an Xilinx Spartan-3 400K gate FPGA development board! If that doesn't make sense, let me explain it in another way: Electrical engineers found out that computer logic can be arranged into blocks that can be programmed with a computer language. This chip is installed on a little development board that has other support chips that allow it to stand alone. You buy this kit and program it into whatever you want. It was with this basic type of kit that Jeri Elsworth was able to work another competing programmable logic chip, Altera, into a Commodore 64 on a chip. Once all the logic is programmed, it can easily and cheaply be burnt into mass production chips. This is how the DTV64 joystick was created and, if all the bugs get worked out, an Amiga on a chip could also possibly be created.

So far Dennis has developed a basic OCS chipset clone that is in the A500. Of course no sooner did this news break in the Amiga community when someone asked "Are you working on an AA or, even better, AAA chipset?" First things first.

This news was greeted with a lot of skepticism at first. I remember when we went to Amiga shows, often there would be discussions on getting the chipset on to programmable logic. Those in the know stated the hardest part of doing this thing was dealing with the timing issues. The original Amiga designers did all their work the expensive old-fashioned way using transistor-transistor logic which handles things much differently than programmable logic.

A lot of work has to be done before this project can even be considered feasible. In the meantime, Dennis has publicly demoed his creation at different shows in Europe -- and has even gotten his project to run games like Lemmings.